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Zach LaVine has priorities straight, leads Bulls to victory in season opener

LaVine had 34 points in the win over the Pistons and was focused on the game today, not the contract of tomorrow.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine walks off the court with head coach Billy Donovan after Wednesday’s win over the Pistons.
Bulls guard Zach LaVine walks off the court with head coach Billy Donovan after Wednesday’s win over the Pistons.
Carlos Osorio/AP

DETROIT — There will be plenty of time for Bulls guard Zach LaVine to dwell on his contract situation and pending free agency.

One of LaVine’s impressive traits is his ability to compartmentalize.

It’s easy for him to put the pressure of playing for a max contract into a box, wrap it up and worry about it down the road.

LaVine understands the real business at hand: turning the Bulls into a playoff team.

And despite some rough moments, LaVine tipped off the season with 34 points, leading the Bulls to a 94-88 victory at Little Caesars Arena.

“Not surprised; it was expected,’’ Bulls newcomer DeMar DeRozan said of LaVine taking over in the second half.

The outstanding part for the Bulls was that he did it on both ends of the floor. He was his usual lethal self on offense as well as a disrupter defensively.

This new LaVine might be a carryover from his Olympic experience. But maybe LaVine finally understands that becoming a two-way player involves mental toughness.

“The shots that he made and the things that he does athletically and talent-wise, I think people have seen for years out of him,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s always kind of had that. I think he’s looking at things through a different lens. His voice is there; there’s different messaging coming from him in a really, really good way. He sees things in a different way now based on his [All-Star and Olympic] experiences.’’

That was evident against the Pistons, just not early on.

The first half couldn’t have gone any worse for the Bulls, especially the first quarter. The defense actually showed up, but the offense seemed to have stayed behind in Chicago.

The Bulls had only 14 points and shot 7-for-25 (28%) from the field, including 0-for-5 from three-point range.

It was obvious that Donovan was searching for some type of mix to work, going 10 deep in the rotation, including letting rookie Ayo Dosunmu get some minutes.

With the Bulls down 44-40 at the half, it seemed like the switch would flip, and Detroit would do what Detroit is supposed to do — fold — but the Pistons didn’t get the memo.

Even in the second half, when the Bulls’ offense — specifically LaVine — started to heat up, the Pistons wouldn’t go away. A game like this last season likely would have ended in disaster for the Bulls.

“This ain’t last year,’’ LaVine said. “We’re looking forward now. It’s a whole new team and a whole new mindset. Excited that we grinded that one out, and a win is a win.’’

Nikola Vucevic had 15 points and 15 rebounds, and DeRozan scored 17 and grabbed seven rebounds in his Bulls debut.

Even Dosunmu had some solid moments, especially in the second half, scoring seven points.

“As long as we come with energy on both ends of the floor, our offense will find its way,’’ LaVine said.

That’s what matters now more than anything for LaVine — getting wins. Will victories influence him to want to stay with the Bulls or will he look to go elsewhere? Talk for another day.

“I wouldn’t even be worried about my contract situation,’’ LaVine said. “I’m worried about Game 1 and seeing where it goes from there. When that time comes, we’ll see what happens and go from there, but I’m worried about the Bulls’ season right now.’’